As an American, you have a right to good health care that is effective, accessible, and affordable, that serves you from infancy through old age, that allows you to go to practitioners and facilities of your choosing, and that offers a broad range of therapeutic options.
We currently have an expensive system that is not making people well. While there has been tremendous debate over access and payment, there has been less focus on the content of health care. Without a change in that content, we will never have a sustainable system; all attempts at reform will be taken down by unmanageable costs.
As I outlined in my book, Why Our Health Matters: A Vision of Medicine That Can Transform Our Future, here are some changes we can demand immediately:
1. Ban direct-to-consumer marketing and advertising by big pharma.
Sales of $643 billion a year have made the pharmaceutical industry the number one most profitable business in the country. Most pharmaceutical companies spend a huge portion of their budget on advertising and promotion. The result is a nation of people who believe there's a pill for every health problem. Big pharma advertising is producing a distorted and narrow view of how health care works, which is why there are several bills moving through Congress that aim to clamp down on it.
2. Create a National Institute of Health and Healing at the NIH and fund it generously
If our health care system is to achieve greatness, our medicine needs to return to its roots. It must focus again on the natural and innate healing power of human beings. This means investing more in research that will help us understand the body's ability to maintain health, defend itself from harm, regenerate damaged tissue and adapt to injury and loss. Doing so will help us create and improve treatment and therapies that are less invasive and less expensive while making the most of our most powerful healing asset: ourselves.
3. Create an Office of Health Promotion within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and fund it appropriately.
We spend 40 times more on the health risks of terrorism than we do on the health risks of obesity, which kills about 400,000 people a year. There is too much emphasis on treating disease rather than on protecting health in the first place. We need to invest real dollars and ingenuity in educating people about nutrition, exercise and other healthy activities. It's the single most effective way to defeat the epidemic of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and conditions that lead to life-threatening diseases.
4. Teach health promotion and integrative medicine at medical schools and residency programs.
We need to create a new generation of hands-on primary care physicians who are as knowledgeable about promoting health practices that their patients can adopt to prevent serious, chronic diseases as they are about disease management and crisis intervention.
5. Require insurers to cover health promotion and integrative care.
Millions of Americans today are taking dietary supplements, practicing yoga and integrating other natural therapies into their lives. These are all preventive measures that will keep them out of the doctor's office and drive down the costs of treating serious problems like heart disease and diabetes. Yet none of these healthy activities is covered by insurance companies.
6. Establish an Office of Health Education within the U.S. Department of Education.
We need to start healthy habits young. This office would make nutrition, diet, and exercise an integrated part of every child's education and encourage innovative ways to teach healthy practices to young people so the messages stick.
7. Learn how to take care of yourself!
You can't afford to get sick, and you can't depend on the present health care system to keep you well. It's up to you to protect and maintain your body's innate capacity for health and healing by making the right choices in how you live.
Yours in health,
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Why Our Health Matters: A Vision of Medicine That Can Transform Our Future is available now. Visit the website Why Our Health Matters for more information.